NEW DELHI - Pakistan said Wednesday it was “encouraged” by comments from arch rival India’s election frontrunner Narendra Modi who stressed cooperation with foreign governments if he was elected prime minister.
Hindu nationalist hardliner Modi and his opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) party are expected to vault to power at mammoth elections underway in India after a decade of centre-left Congress party rule.
Critics fear Modi will adopt a tough foreign policy that could see relations deteriorate with traditional rival Pakistan and neighbouring emerging market giant China.
But Pakistan High Commissioner Abul Basit said he welcomed Modi’s comments in a television interview late Tuesday that he would pursue the policies followed by former BJP premier Atal Behari Vajpayee.
“I was very much encouraged. They were very positive. It gives us hope that if he is elected as prime minister we should expect more positive things,” Basit told a small gathering of journalists in New Delhi.
Vajpayee sought several times during his tenure to make permanent peace with Pakistan which has fought three wars with India, two of them over Kashmir, since their split in 1947. The nuclear-armed neighbours both clashed in a limited conflict called the Kargil war in 1999, and the disputed region of Kashmir, which both countries claim in full, continues to be a running source of tension.
New Delhi broke off peace talks with Islamabad after the 2008 Mumbai attacks. Making a strong pitch for a resumption of the talks, Basit said dialogue was the only way to resolve outstanding issues such as Kashmir. Basit said the Pakistani government wished to change the “narrative” between the two countries into one of “cooperation and trust.”
The Pakistani envoy also said that his government was “keenly looking forward to a government with which Pakistan (can engage) quickly, comprehensively and meaningfully... and move from conflicting relations.”
The envoy added that “terrorism is a common enemy of both countries” and that those who believed Pakistan harboured terrorists “misunderstood the country”.
Asked about foreign policy in the TV interview on Tuesday night, Modi asserted that he would follow Vajpayee’s policies.
“I believe mutual respect for one another and cooperation should be the basis for relationships with foreign nations,” Modi said, according to the Press Trust of India news agency.
India’s six-week long elections will end on May 12 with results four days later.